‘It has been half a year’: Families of hostages mark six months of anguish

The mother of a young Israeli whose body was seized by an Unwra worker has pleaded for his remains to be returned


Ayelet Samerano with her niece (right) and a friend of the family

Sunday will mark six months since the October 7 massacre that saw at least 1,200 people murdered in Israel, thousands more wounded and some 240 snatched and held hostage in Gaza by Hamas terrorists. For the loved ones of the estimated 130 people who remain in captivity, it is impossible to comprehend why “every person in the world isn’t screaming, ‘Let them go’.”

The mother of a young Israeli man whose body was apparently seized and taken into Gaza on October 7 by a UNRWA worker has pleaded for his remains to be returned so she can say goodbye “for the last time”.

Jonathan Samerano, from Tel Aviv, was shot near the gates of Kibbutz Be'eri having fled from the terrorists at the Nova festival where the 21-year-old DJ had been partying.

CCTV footage from Be’eri released by Israeli officials appears to show a UNRWA social worker, Faisal Ali Mussalem al-Naami, picking up Jonathan’s inert body, loading it into a vehicle and driving away.

In December, Jonathan’s mother, Ayelet Samerano, was told that the IDF believed her son was dead, though it was not clear if he had been killed on October 7 or had died in captivity in Gaza.

“I just want to say goodbye to my son for the last time,” said Ayelet recently, addressing the Hostages and Missing Families Forum in Tel Aviv. “Whether he is dead or alive, he is still my son.
I want to say goodbye and kiss him for the last time.

“I don’t want to have to deal with Hamas. I want to deal with UNRWA because one of their workers kidnapped my son. And now the UN has to bring him back. They are meant to be a human rights organisation but they took my son. I hope one of them will hear me.”

Commenting on the footage, Jonathan Fowler, a UNRWA spokesman said: "It is not possible for UNRWA to verify the footage or photographs and ascertain who the person is. We were not presented with any evidence from the Israeli authorities."

After Israel revealed the identities of 12 UNRWA staff members it alleged “actively participated” in the October 7 attacks, multiple countries, including the UK, US and Germany, suspended funding to the aid organisation, which is the largest operating in Gaza.

The UNRWA said at time: “Of the 12 people implicated, UNRWA immediately identified and terminated the contracts of ten, another two are confirmed dead. Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”

Last month, it emerged that Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh previously worked for UNRWA. Speaking to the London-based Al-Hiwar TV channel, Ahmad Oueidat, a former official at the aid agency, said in footage translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute: “Ismail Haniyeh…was an UNRWA teacher”.

It is believed that more than 130 hostages remain in Gaza though at least 30 of them are presumed dead.

Father-of-two Omri Miran is among those still missing. His father, Dani Miran, has been growing a beard since his son, 46, was taken captive at Kibbutz Nahal Oz, close to the Gaza border.

“Omri will come out with a beard too and we will shave together,” said Dani.

While there are constant talks of new hostage deals, the farmer admitted he could not allow himself the hope of believing they will happen: “Ever since the first deal, I’ve said I’m not interested in the details. I’m just interested in the moment when my son will come back. It is easier when there are no expectations.”

Yuval Haran’s father, aunt and uncle were murdered at Kibbutz Be’eri and seven members of his family kidnapped. Six of them were released during the last ceasefire, but Yuval is still waiting for news of his brother-in-law, Tal Shoham.

He said: “This isn’t about politics or the conflict — this is about not even knowing if he’s alive, what kind of care he’s getting. Is he getting water and food? We don’t know anything.”

Acknowledging the suffering of Palestinians, he said: “Believe me, I don’t want a single person in this world to suffer. I don’t want any child to not have food. But this isn’t about the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is a matter of humanity. It has been half a year and I don’t understand why every person in the world isn’t shouting, screaming, ‘Let them go’.”

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